Indigenous people in Canada write children’s books to tell their own stories

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On a sunny August afternoon, Dave Corbiere left the wharf at the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont., To fish for whitefish and pike in Lake Huron, as his ancestors had done for decades. generations.

But one could experience his life as a fisherman by leafing through his children’s book, “Whispers on the Water,” or reading about it in the pages of a magazine called Canoe Kids. It’s part of a mission to educate people who are not exposed to Indigenous culture beyond media portrayals, by Indigenous Peoples themselves.

Why we wrote this

Minority communities have often not been able to present themselves and their stories to society as a whole. In Canada, a First Nations group is trying to make their voices heard through children’s publishing.

“We were very frustrated with the lack of authentic material to orient teachers and parents on Indigenous cultures and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in Canada today, said Kelly Brownbill, Editor-in-Chief and Cultural Advisor for the magazine and book publishing efforts.

“We want parents to be able to read a story at night that is not a Hollywood version of my culture. … Ninety percent of the world’s problems are caused by ignorance. But what’s really cool about ignorance is that it’s 100% curable if people just take the time and energy.

Manitoulin Island, Ontario

Dave Corbiere propels his fishing boat towards the rocks on the shore of a small island in the North Channel of Lake Huron. It is on this basis that he deposits a fish under an eagle’s nest, perched thinly in the branches of a white pine, before setting off. It is a thank-offering to the bird of prey which is considered sacred by the Ojibwe people – for keeping it safe on the lake and for leading a life worthy of example.

Then he assesses water temperatures and currents in search of schools of whitefish and pike. He and his granddaughter Gabriella set their nets in the evening and hoisted the catch by hand the next morning – never catching more fish than they would use. They spend the first part of the day cleaning and packing for sale. What they do not sell, they will share with the elders in their community.

On a sunny August afternoon, my family joined Mr. Corbiere’s journey from the wharf of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world.

Why we wrote this

Minority communities have often not been able to present themselves and their stories to society as a whole. In Canada, a First Nations group is trying to make their voices heard through children’s publishing.

But one could experience his life as a fisherman by leafing through his children’s book, “Whispers on the Water”, or reading about it in the pages of a magazine called Canoe Kids. It’s part of a mission to educate people like me, who are not exposed to Indigenous culture beyond media portrayals, by Indigenous Peoples themselves.

“The rest of Canada doesn’t understand our culture. A lot of people think we live in tipis, ”says Corbiere. “It helps them understand us better and understand the prejudices that exist. If children receive an education young enough, they will overcome prejudices.

I hesitate at first, then confide that, as I told my elementary daughter that we were entering a reserve, she used the exact wording he quoted: “Oh cool, is he are there going to be teepees? This despite attending a public school in Canada, where the day begins with a reconnaissance of the traditional lands on which each school sits – an indication of the place that Indigenous culture and history is believed to have in the school. Canadian education. He nods to her gently.

“Ignorance is 100% curable”

The first edition of Canoe Kids was released in 2016, before being renamed 4Canoes in 2019. The publication was a direct response to calls to action launched in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, established to address the atrocities endured by indigenous children. in boarding schools for decades. And with the debates over who has the right to tell whose history intensifies, the publishing group, which is almost entirely Indigenous, felt it was paramount that the voices featured on the pages were from Indigenous peoples.

“We were very frustrated with the lack of authentic material to orient teachers and parents on Indigenous cultures and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in Canada today,” said Kelly Brownbill, Senior Editor and Cultural Advisor for magazine and book publishing efforts. “We want parents to be able to read a story at night that is not a Hollywood version of my culture. … Ninety percent of the world’s problems are caused by ignorance. But what’s really cool about ignorance is that it’s 100% curable if people just take the time and energy.

Sara Miller Llana / The Christian Science Monitor

Dave Corbiere and his granddaughter Gabriella fish the waters of the North Channel of Lake Huron the same way their ancestors did, including leaving a fish for the eagle, a bird considered sacred by the Ojibwe people, before setting out.

Their first edition focused on Manitoulin Island, which means “island of spirits” in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibway language, and has long been a center of Aboriginal culture – and tourism, before the pandemic, in Canada. It introduces readers to ancient stories, the importance of birch bark canoes and pau waus (pow-wow). It includes glossy photos and an Anishinaabemowin keyword glossary.

Kevin Milne, photojournalist and pilot of the project, explains that part of the idea was to start in central Canada, then radiate out to Indigenous cultures in the west and east, then south to the States. -United and throughout Latin America and beyond. The magazine and books have reached over a million viewers and are now found in libraries and schools across Canada.

One of the four pillars of the project is environmental rights (along with human rights, cultural rights, and equity), and this philosophy is reflected in stories of how women and men like Mr. Corbiere lead a life of conservation, without necessarily even using the word, says Milne.

“These stories are very important, they allow people who have never met an Aboriginal person to connect in a way that they might not be able to do,” he says. “It’s a way to attract these people and have a different consideration of a culture based on the land. “

Another view of the world

In his book, Mr. Corbiere talks about the teachings of the “whispering water” traditions passed down from his ancestors and which he now passes on to his granddaughter. Next to illustrated photos of the crystal clear waters and land of Manitoulin Island, the text reads: “He teaches him where the shoals and reefs are, and where the edges drop to great depths.” “

This afternoon, he takes us to the camp where this granddaughter, Gabriella, lives in the summer, next to her grandparents, on a rocky outcrop called the Five Islands. As we chat, a butterfly flies around their screened porch.

“It’s important to give people a different view of the world, that there are different ways of living,” says Ms. Corbiere, who is 19 years old. Plus, she admits it’s pretty cool to see the images she sees every day in the form of an illustrated book.

Someone else thinks that’s pretty cool too, as my daughter and I flip through the pages after we get back to our hotel for the day – and this time because she had a real experience, not a Hollywood rendition. .


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